I was down south for the weekend, and stopped off at Bookham Common on Saturday for a few hours to take part in the monthly survey. Despite there being only three of us, we still tallied up a heap load of interesting critters, including some really impressive beetles.
You can keep up-to-date with the London Natural History Society's programme of events here.
It's been a busy few weeks. I finished university, quit my job at Tesco and have spent the remaining time helping a PhD student carry out butterfly surveys in orchards across Herefordshire and Gloucestershire (you can read about Charlotte's ongoing research project here). Butterfly sightings within the orchards themselves are few and far between, particularly on the more intensively managed farms, and have mostly been limited to singles of Green-veined White and Painted Lady as they speed through. However, the overgrown field margins and buffer strips that surround each orchard are more productive - this striking dalmation spotted Thistle Ermine burst out from the undergrowth as I walked a transect on Monday.
Last Friday I spent the afternoon in a Christmas tree plantation just east of Worcester. Not the first place you'd expect to find me looking for moths, but it paid off. I was netting hundreds of tiny moths off the Fir trees which I suspected would turn out to be something interesting, but I didn't expect them to be quite as interesting as they have turned out to be. Dissecting a couple of specimens has shown them to be Epinotia pygmaeana - a scarce species associated with Norway Spruce. However, externally they show characteristics much more in line withEpinotia subsequana - an even rarer species associated with Fir trees. Dissecting moths is one of the most reliable and necessary methods of identifying troublesome moths, but given the extent to which these individuals resemble E. subsequana in forewing markings, the results have come as a surprise to everyone.
Everything we have so far has been passed on to the experts for further discussion, but which ever way you look at it this represents the first record of either species for Worcestershire. The whole saga now brings to light the difficulty involved in identifying these two species, and casts doubt over the reliability of forewing characteristics when telling them apart. The mystery deepens!
Epinotia pygmaeana (or is it?)
To clear my head of this moth conundrum, I visited Monkwood to survey more moths. Fighting fire with fire. I was surveying Drab Looper to be specific, an uncommon day-flying species that frequents coppice woodland with healthy populations of Wood Spurge, the larval foodplant.
Drab Loopers were thin on the ground, and one individual was all I could turn up in a two hour transect walk. There were plenty of other things to keep my eyes occupied though.
The weather continues to be kind to us here in Worcester, and it was yet another warm, sunny and humid afternoon. I spent most of it traversing the hedgerows and fields around Rushwick, a village east of Worcester, in search of all things that crawl or fly.
Out in the grassland Diamond-back Moths continue to dominate over everything. Several would come bursting out from the sward with every footstep, and one can only begin to imagine how many hundreds of millions are involved in this particular migration event. Cuckoo flower has almost gone over for another year, but small numbers of Cauchas rufimitrella were still clinging to the few plants that remain in flower, providing an easy meal for several freshly White-legged Damselfly that patrolled the grasses. The hedgerows were brimming with insects, perhaps the most surprising of all being a Scarce Fungus Weevil perched out in the open on an alder sapling - the first I've seen and an impressive beast.
Star of the show had to be the spectacular Adela croesella, several individuals of which were displaying to each other above the lime trees. The males, with their long antennae, look too dainty to fly well, but get too close with a camera and they'll quickly flutter up to the canopy out of reach of a photo. Every now and again, one would settle on a leaf at eye-level, giving me the chance to fully appreciate the stunning iridescent purple and gold markings on their wings.
Diamond-back Moths have been blown over to Britain from mainland Europe in unimaginable numbers recently, with some recorders along the south-coast catching upwards of 1000 individuals in the past couple of nights. The migration potential of this species is well-documented, but the scale of this particular influx is awesome. Walking through the fields north of Worcester on Thursday I could barely move a few steps without kicking up half a dozen moths. Even in the city centre, there were Diamond-back Moths resting on the pavement along Worcester's busy high street, and from the reports on social media, this seems to be the situation in all four corners of the UK.
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to suggest that millions (perhaps even billions) have dropped out of the sky across the UK in the past few days, perhaps originating from eastern and southern Europe where it can be a 'pest' of agricultural crops. Moths never cease to amaze!
I get extremely fidgety at this time of year. Leaves have burst back onto trees, and everywhere looks that little bit more superb because of it. If I'm not outside, I'm worrying about the insects I could be missing, and when I am outside I don't know which direction to turn. It usually culminates in many hours spent bashing or sweeping every square metre of vegetation, without actually covering much ground.
Apparently, according to friends and family, this doesn't always make me a very good walking partner. Whilst they want to work up a sweat, I want to find as much wildlife as possible. Give me a nice patch of woodland or grassland - no matter how small - and I can quite easily keep myself occupied for a day.
With this in mind, I made sure not to let anyone join me (not that anyone actually wanted to) on an evening foray around the village of Hallow last week. I stumbled across a tennis court sized patch of rough grassland opposite a sewage treatment plant and spent three hours recording things, ending up with my highest daylight search tally for the year of 31 moth species. There was such a diverse range of micro-moths flying that it would be hard to pick a highlight, but I was particularly chuffed to stumble across a small population of Dichrorampha sequana - an intricately pattered moth with a very comical snout.
Notocelia uddmanniana - leaf spinning on bramble created by the larva
I finished my degree as an undergraduate last Wednesday with a two
hour exam on the subject of 'behavioural ecology' - whatever that is. It's a hefty relief to be able to say goodbye to the workload that comes with a degree, but it's also going to be a somber goodbye to the city that has become my second home over the past three years, and to all the great people with whom I've shared the uni journey.
I've already said goodbye to my job at Tesco, effectively freeing up my weekends to be able to make the most of the Worcestershire countryside before our student house contract runs out at the end of June. One of my housemates bought a car on Thursday, and we've christened it with numerous trips to two of Worcestershire Wildlife Trust's flagship reserves; the Knapp & Papermill and Monkwood...
The Isabella Plantation, an ornamental woodland garden set within Richmond Park, packed full of exotic trees and colourful shrubs from the other side of the world, isn't the first place you might expect to find me looking for moths.
It's significance to me is more one of sentiment. In times long past, Richmond Park was always the top location choice for a family picnic, and all the youngsters would usually end up in the Isabella Plantation; feeding oversized chunks of bread to Mandarins, rolling around in mud or playing cowboys and indians among the Rhododendron bushes - we were 19 years old.
My Dad and I returned to the Plantation for a stroll last Wednesday, whilst having a brief catch-up in London. Being back there for the first time in many years felt unusual, not least because I now carried a butterfly net in hand, and judged every woodland glade based on their entomological value. Alas, I haven't really grown (or matured!) much since then, but the Rhododendron bushes certainly looked a lot less like potential armed fortresses than they would have done to 10 year old me.
In terms of moths, every other birch sapling held the leaf mines of Eriocrania semipurpurella, and I managed to tap Pammene splendidulana off a big veteran oak - a tortrix I have little previous experience with that took a bit of head scratching before finally coming to a correct identification.
I was at Grimley yesterday, hoping to time my visit with the annual spring wader influx that (sometimes) reaches this far up the Severn. A stunning summer plumage Dunlin was feeding along the northern shoreline, but as the day went on it was clear that the majority of wader passage was happening south of Worcester, with five Whimbrels at Ripple Pits and a pair of Wood Sandpiper at Clifton.
I diverted my attention to day flying moths, of which there should be swarms in this kind of weather. In reality though, a single Esperia sulphurella disturbed from dead wood, and a couple of Incurvaria masculella amongst the hedgerows, were the only things flying. Megatoma undulata - a scarce beetle on dead wood - was nice to see, and Dyseriocrania subpurpurella mines are starting to appear on fresh oak leaves.
Yesterday I finally submitted my dissertation, marking the beginning of the end of my time at university - just an exam to struggle through in two weeks time and then it's all over! The past couple of months worth of dissertation writing have been fairly smooth sailing, but the assignment itself would never have been completed without a lot of procrastination.
Most of that procrastination has materialised in the form of entering records into the National Moth Recording Scheme's online database, to a point where I have now caught up with my massive backlog of data stretching back to summer 2013!
week I received an email from Alan Skeates, the vice county recorder
for Mull, letting me know that my record of Cochylis nana was a first
for the island. Considering how few people actively search for
micro-moths on Mull, this didn't come as a surprise. It sounds a greedy,
but given how under-recorded the island is, I had hoped that a few more
of my records would be island 'firsts'. I think a return visit is
definitely on the cards!
Cochylis nana - the first record for Mull
Epinotia bilunana - the second record for Mull
Phyllonorycter ulmifoliella - the second record for Mull
The above three moths were found in this small patch of wind-sculpted birch wood on the south-west coast of Mull - one of the most eerily beautiful places I've ever found myself searching for wildlife.